Grapevine: Judge them by the content of their character

Today is the actual 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historic address, in which he shared his dream with the people of America.

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August 27, 2013 21:51
Rev. Martin Luther King

Rev. Martin Luther King 311. (photo credit: DeMarsico, Dick)

Today is the actual 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historic address, in which he shared his dream with the people of America. The moral imperative of his message was gradually picked up by the rest of the world.

Racism is not yet dead, but it certainly is dying – and more people are being judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, in accordance with King’s vision. Unfortunately, there are those whose judgment is still based on color rather than content, and the color bias does not only apply to skin, but also to clothing.

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In Israel, the black-clad haredi community has been libeled and humiliated beyond belief by venom spewing anti-religious elements who have charged the whole haredi sector of society with being social parasites.

Yes, there might be a few that fit that description, and there are also extreme zealots within the haredi community whose lack of tolerance and inability to exist in a “live and let live” environment unfortunately casts a shadow over all haredim. But there are vast numbers of haredim who are good, decent, human beings, who care about others and who operate numerous social welfare organizations – in which no distinction is made between the religious and non-religious, or the Jewish and non-Jewish beneficiaries of their goodwill.

One relatively new example is the House of Good Deeds in memory of Chabad emissaries Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, who were murdered in a terrorist attack in Mumbai in November 2008. Their two-yearold- son, Moishi, was rescued by his Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel, who after the tragedy came to Israel to look after him in the Afula home of his maternal grandparents, Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg. Samuel was regarded as so great a heroine in Israel that she was awarded Israeli citizenship.

She said that she would look after Moishi as long as needed, but planned to eventually return home. She recently did so, as Moishi is now seven years old and doesn’t need a nanny anymore.

With the opening of the new school year this week, Moishi entered second grade. He’s a bright, happy, mischievous little boy, who also has his serious moments – especially during his daily visits to the site of the House of Good Deeds, which is under construction and scheduled for completion some time next year.

Part of the building may be in use as early as November, however, for a project called Straight from the Heart. It involves supplying meals to the needy, and daily preparation and delivery to area schools of hundreds of sandwiches for children from economically deprived families.

A joint initiative of the Rosenbergs and Afula Mayor Avi Alkabetz, the three-story structure will serve as a guesthouse for soldiers, youth, hikers, students, schoolchildren and institutional groups. Its dining room will be open to the public, like that of every Chabad House abroad. The cost of construction is approximately $2 million, all of which was raised through donations.

■ CONTRARY TO conventional wisdom, there are free lunches – at least on Shabbat at the Chabad Rehavia Center in Jerusalem, where every Saturday without fail, there is a lunchtime kiddush. Depending on the sponsor and the occasion, the meal is rich in both quantity and variety, especially if it is paid for by the family of a pair of newlyweds.

Sometimes the sponsors are not overly generous and there’s barely enough food to go around, particularly because the numbers keep growing. The kiddush is always accompanied by at least one lecture, singing and dancing. Unfortunately, too many of those who come are there only for the free food and don’t stay to listen to the lectures.

A couple of women who make a point of coming early do so not only to get a free lunch – but also a free dinner. They stuff their purses with food from the tables before most guests arrive, and eat very heartily at the luncheon. Even those who are not part of the “doggy bag brigade” will often help themselves to such an extent that there’s not enough left on the dishes being passed around for everyone to partake. One such woman ate so much schnitzel and potato kugel last Saturday, as well as various first course snacks, it’s a wonder she didn’t burst.

The meal was much more lavish than usual because there were several celebrations – a couple of bridegrooms and a bar mitzva boy, but even more importantly, the birthdays of Rabbi Israel Ben-Eliezer, better known as the Baal Shem Tov, who is credited with being the founder of Hassidism; and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad and the author of the Tanya, which is a collection of his discourses and one of the most important books in the library of every Chabadnik. Chabad is an acronym for chochma (wisdom), bina (understanding) and da’at (knowledge); both the Baal Shem Tov and Zalman were born the 18th of Elul.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, who heads Chabad Rehavia and has a much stronger voice than most of his speakers, always stands in the doorway between the men’s section in the courtyard and the women’s section inside the building, to make kiddush and to say something about the parasha. The message in last Shabbat’s portion was that nothing should be taken for granted and that we should always express appreciation to the Divine Creator, and to anyone who ever does something for us – even if it’s only a smile in our direction. Then, perched precariously on a plastic chair so that everyone could see as well as hear him, Goldberg offered several l’chaims to various people present. Tapping his foot on the chair, he launched into a series of Chabad melodies that were quickly taken up by the male guests.

The guest speaker was Rabbi Dr.

Alon Silberg, whose voice is not nearly as strong as that of Goldberg.

Worse still, because people couldn’t hear him, they kept eating and talking.

He was also standing in a section of the courtyard from where he could barely be heard. Goldberg told him to stand in the doorway, which he eventually did, but he balked at having to stand on a chair. In any case, he told two parables, one about Rabbi Akiva and the other about Rabbi Nahum Ish Gamzu, who had been Rabbi Akiva’s teacher.

Each had been struck by adversity.

Rabbi Akiva was on a journey and arrived at a certain city at nightfall, when the gates were locked. He banged on the gates and asked to be allowed in, but was denied. So he went to the woods to take shelter. He had a candle and only one match, which miraculously lit the candle, by whose light he hoped to study – but a wind rose up and blew out the flame. Being a man of faith, he accepted this as the will of the Almighty, and prepared for sleep thinking that the cock that he had with him would crow at daybreak and wake him early in the morning so he could continue his journey on his donkey. But a wild animal came and devoured both the cock and the donkey.

Even this did not shake Rabbi Akiva’s faith, and he said the Merciful One had done so for the good. He retraced his steps to the city to which he had been denied entry the previous evening, and learned that the place had been attacked by a band of violent robbers. Had he been there, he would have undoubtedly suffered at their hands, as did many of the residents. Had they seen his candle, they would have found him. Had his cock crowded or his donkey brayed, they would have alerted the robbers to his presence. So in the final analysis, all that happened had been for his good.

Rabbi Nahum, for his part, received his title because no matter what befell him, his response was invariably “Gamzu l’tova,” or “This is also for the good.” In his case, the Roman emperor had issued some harsh edicts against the people of Judea, so they sent Rabbi Nahum to Rome in the hope he could persuade the emperor to deal more kindly with them. As an incentive, they sent him along with a chest filled with gold and diamonds. On the way, he stopped at an inn for the night. The innkeeper knew Rabbi Nahum’s destination and realized there must be valuables in the chest; when Rabbi Nahum was asleep, the innkeeper stole the contents of the chest and replaced them with dust.

Rabbi Nahum discovered the loss the next morning, but decided to continue on his journey. When he was granted an audience with the emperor and presented him with the chest, the emperor was furious, thinking that the people of Judea had sent dust to mock him. He had Rabbi Nahum cast into prison, where certain death awaited him. But one of his advisers said the Jews would surely not dare to mock the emperor of Rome. There must be something special about this dust, he suggested, and mentioned he had heard that when Abraham the Patriarch had gone to battle against Chedarlaomer and his confederate kings, Abraham had thrown sand and soil against them – which had turned into arrows. Perhaps this dust comes from the same kind of soil, said the adviser.

The emperor had been warring with his enemies for some time, but had been unable to defeat them. Perhaps the dust in the chest was what he needed. And of course the miracle occurred, the emperor was triumphant and Rabbi Nahum was set free. His faith had never waned.

On the way back to Judea, he stayed at the same inn and told his story to the innkeeper, who immediately tore down all the trees and plant life surrounding the inn and filled several boxes with dust. He then went to Rome thinking that he would be richly rewarded. But it was quickly discovered that the dust he had collected was nothing more than just dust. The emperor was really angry this time, and the innkeeper was severely punished.

The moral of the story is that adversity may not always be what it seems, and beneath the surface there is often something positive One can find it, if one has faith.

■ THE CEREMONY for this year’s Boris Smolar Award for reporting on the Jewish world evolved into an endorsement ceremony for public broadcasting. The actual winner of the award – which is presented annually by Malben/JDC, one of the important links between Israel and the Diaspora – was veteran broadcaster Oren Nahari, who serves as foreign news editor on both Channel 1 and Israel Radio. Nahari is a walking encyclopedia. His range of knowledge on a huge variety of subjects is nothing short of amazing, and he could probably compete with Google.

The prize honors the memory of Smolar, who served as editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency from 1939 to 1967, after having previously been the JTA’s European correspondent and a roving reporter in Jewish New York. He set high standards of excellence in his reporting and expected no less from others. He also took up many Jewish causes, some of them at great risk to his own life. Together with Malben/JDC and other Jewish organizations, Smolar set up a series of prizes to encourage greater interest in Jewish journalism, and to foster closer ties between Israel and the rest of the Jewish world.

Among the people who came to congratulate Nahari was his good friend and longtime colleague, David Witztum, with whom he regularly appears on television programs; the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s man in Paris, Gideon Kutz; former Smolar award recipients Avi Becker, Shmuel Rosner and Yaakov Ahimeir; and several other journalists, mostly past and present employees of the IBA.

The event took place at the Jerusalem Press Club, whose director, Uri Dromi, emphasized the importance of public broadcasting and its role in drawing in the world Jewish community. “Only those of us who have lived in Jewish communities abroad know how deeply they care about Israel,” said Dromi.

In presenting the award, Malben/JDC head Arnon Mantver said it was no coincidence that the majority of recipients of the award were people who worked for the IBA, since only public broadcasting would concern itself with the Jewish world. This is because the subject matter isn’t cool, and there is a false premise that the general public isn’t interested. Mantver confessed that he believed this myth until Malben/ JDC decided to take a survey, and discovered that 80 percent of the Israeli public is interested in what is going on in the Jewish world.

Nahari said that wherever possible, he tries to inject some aspect of the Jewish world into news broadcasts.

He certainly deals with Jewish subjects in cultural programs such as Globus, which he co-hosts with Witztum.

The subjects they cover would be hard-pressed to find a niche in commercial television.

Nahari said he was not accepting the award only for himself, but for all his colleagues at Channel 1 – who work so hard to bring viewers the most interesting and accurate news reports on the broad spectrum of the Jewish world. Nahari lamented that many Israelis do not know enough about their Jewish past or what goes on in the Jewish present.

■ FRENCH AMBASSADOR Christophe Bigot, who is in the process of completing his tenure in Israel, returned from vacation in time to escort French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to his various meetings with Israeli dignitaries.

When they arrived for their meeting with President Shimon Peres on Sunday morning, Bigot was carrying a copy of The Jerusalem Post under his arm. Also present at the meeting was Yossi Gal, Israel’s ambassador to France, who in previous capacities was involved with peace negotiations and worked closely with Peres.

Fabius and Peres, who have known each other for years, embraced warmly, kissing each other on both cheeks in true French fashion.

Fabius noted the success of Peres’s recent visit to France, and said France was looking forward to his next visit in a few months’ time. Each of them made reference to Leon Blum, who was thrice prime minister of France.

In referring to Peres’s tireless quest for peace, Fabius said he thinks of Blum, who when asked if he believed in it, replied: “Yes, because I hope.” Peres employed another Blum quote: “Socialism is not an ideology, but a civilization that must be preserved.”

Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the Upper Galilee, which in November will celebrate its 70th anniversary, was named in honor of Blum – who in 1942 had been the focus of a show trial mounted by the collaborationist Vichy government. Blum, a Socialist, was the first Jew to become premier of France. Despite the risk of remaining in France under the Nazi occupation, he refused to leave. In April 1943, the Nazis sent him to Buchenwald, later transferring him to Dachau. In the final weeks of the war, the Nazi regime ordered local authorities to execute him, but they refused. He was liberated by the allies in May 1945.

A monument featuring his likeness stands in perpetuity in Kfar Blum. A street near the French residence in Jaffa is also named in his honor.

■ JUST PRIOR to the screening of a documentary at the Jerusalem Cinematheque last Thursday on the life of Shmuel Katz, one of the seven members of the Irgun high command – a politician who served in the first Knesset as well as a prolific writer, journalist and historian whose writings frequently appeared in the Post – director and co-producer Yehuda Yaniv, presented the audience with a brief background on the film, which was 10 years in the making.

When he was initially approached by Ann and Barry Swersky to make the film, he had barely heard of the South African-born Katz, who was already well-advanced in years. Katz died in May 2008 at the age of 93.

His body had betrayed him, said Yaniv, but his mind was still clear.

Moreover, even though Katz was confined to a wheelchair in the last decade of his life, he developed a close relationship with the son who had never known that Katz was his father, and had only remembered him to some extent as a friend of the family.

Even though Katz had been an influential figure in his time, soon no one will remember him, said Yaniv, because most people – no matter how powerful or influential they may have been – fade from memory when they are no longer around. The paucity of people in the audience gave weight to his words, particularly as invitations to the screening had been issued by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, which on Katz’s 90th birthday had feted him to a full house. In the interim, many aging Irgun veterans and Herutniks have died or become infirm.

Yaniv explained that the documentary was not intended as a political film, but simply as a visual biography in which some of Katz’s political views were included – but in an historical rather than an ideological sense. The film opens with Katz’s son, Yuval Granot, saying that for 30 years he did not know that Katz was his father, and now he misses him more than the father he never knew.

Even those people who vehemently disagree with Katz’s views will find the film fascinating. Much of it centers on discussions Katz had with Granot when he was already confined to a wheelchair. But there are stills and flashbacks of the tall, energetic young man Katz had been.

Katz, through his work with Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky – as an editor, politician, publisher, biographer, information strategist and more – contributed an important chapter to Zionist history, both actively and passively, in his native South Africa and in Israel, England and the US. He was known for his integrity and clarity of thought. Katz did not believe in compromise of any kind, explaining that when the opposite side realizes you are willing to give in on something, they will always ask for more.

At a family dinner, he was asked whether the freedom fighters of the Jewish underground movements could be compared with Palestinian freedom fighters. In other words, were they freedom fighters or terrorists? Katz declared there was no comparison, because the Jewish freedom fighters were basically interested in getting rid of the British Mandate – but not in killing innocent people.

The Palestinian freedom fighters, on the other hand, don’t care who they kill.

After the screening, Yaniv asked the audience’s opinion about this, and was also curious to know whether the hatred that existed between the various underground movements, such as the Hagana, Irgun and Stern Group, had dissipated. The audience agreed with Katz on the issue of freedom fighters, and Yair Stern – who preserves the memory of the Stern Group, which was led by the father he never knew – said that today, there is cooperation between whoever is still alive from the underground movements. This is because they want to jointly ensure there is a proper historical record of underground resistance to the Mandate. Aside from that, he said, there aren’t too many people from that era left to hate each other anymore.

■ COINCIDENCE IS a strange phenomenon.

Yesterday, at a the Kiryat Shaul cemetery, the Artzi family of Tel Aviv commemorated the 10th anniversary of the passing of Holocaust survivor Yitzhak Artzi, who had been a Zionist activist in the resistance movement in his native Romania, helping to rescue Jewish children from transit camps. He was subsequently active in the Cyprus internment camps, to which illegal immigrants to the Jewish homeland had been confined by British Mandate authorities.

Later, when living in Tel Aviv, he studied law, became a politician and was involved in local and national politics, serving as deputy mayor of Tel Aviv and later as an MK. Some years prior to his election to the Tel Aviv Municipal Council, he was head of the Youth Aliya Department of the Jewish Agency and a member of the agency’s board of directors.

His two children both achieved fame. One is popular singer and radio host Shlomo Artzi, and the other is author, playwright and poet Nava Semel. Their mother, Mimi, is also a Holocaust survivor.

On Sunday of this week, Shlomo Artzi gave an emotional performance at the Great Synagogue in Berlin. It was the first time that he had ever performed in Germany, although it was not his first visit to the country.

As a schoolboy, he had been a member of the first Israeli youth group to visit Germany. The group had visited Dachau, and this was one of the most memorable experiences he had in learning about the atrocities the Nazis had inflicted on the Jews.

Artzi was in Berlin as the guest of the organizers of the 27th annual Jewish Culture Festival. He brought his three children with him and invited his son, Ben, who is also a professional singer, to join him on stage and perform a solo. Artzi himself sang a song in tribute to his mother.

Berlin’s Great Synagogue, which is more than 100 years old and the largest synagogue in the country, miraculously survived World War II, despite partial destruction on Kristallnacht. After long years of neglect, a major $7 million restoration project was undertaken, and the synagogue was reopened at the end of August 2007. Artzi’s performance there and that of his son, who represents family continuity, was not only symbolic of Jewish survival in the face of adversity and persecution, but also the opposite side of the coin to something Golda Meir used to say when she spoke of the Holocaust.

The prime minister often said it was erroneous to state that 6 million Jews had been murdered – as it was they, their children and their children’s children, ad infinitum, who could have given the world so much talent and creativity.

Mimi and Yitzhak Artzi survived, and their children and grandchildren have contributed to creativity and culture.

greerfc@gmail.com


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